Archive | December, 2014

Secret Teacher Guest Post: Professionalism Problems

15 Dec

There are quite a few secret teachers out there in the world.  People who have spotted things that need changing in their environment but whose ideas or suggestions are brushed aside or dismissed out of hand.  This blog was contacted by a reader who needed some help to voice her concerns anonymously.  I’m very happy to do that for this reader and indeed any other!

ninja teacher

So the class is due to start at 9 and you are two teachers short. They are not picking up their respective mobiles and the minute hand is creeping round to ten past. The kids are in their classrooms, or milling around outside and your own class is due to have started ten minutes ago. People here often tend towards mild lateness, but such simple laxness is giving you kittens, week in week out. My emergency lessons are on standby, the trigger-finger hanging over the big green button of the photocopier so that you have something, anything, to start the classes off with before I run around trying to find people to cover the classes. Eventually one, then the other teacher, stroll into the school, say ‘dzien dobry’, and roll into their classes. Five minutes before the end of the class and those self-same teachers are the first out of the door, with a ‘bye’, only if you happen to be standing by the door as they rush homewards. Having looked through the windows of those teachers’ classrooms and registered dull, static book lessons and rows of bored faces of students you feel something should be done. But what?

As a DoS of a Central European language school with an inherited staffroom and with an indifferent local pool of teachers to hire from with a fairly complicated timetable to manage you find yourself in a bit of a pickle. You’ve talked to the usual suspects, they’ve promised to do better and for a lesson or two there was a bit of an uptick, slight improvements in attitude and delivery. But then there is regression towards the mean and you’ve come to face the fact that you’ve got some frankly lazy teachers in your staffroom. What to do?

In a bigger city, in a bigger school, there is more cover, the role feels more impersonal (I know, I’ve been there) and the action clearer. You would, ahem, phase out said teachers, at the end of terms or semesters, rolling in the new (hopefully better) blood as new classes appear. But in a smaller town, where the whole English speaking community know each other rather too well you know that unless handled perfectly such actions will blow up in your face. In such places it’s not good to be too harsh, or at least, gain a reputation for harshness.

The problem teachers moan about some of their classes; they’re ‘difficult’ or ‘sulky’ or whatever. But you’ve taught all the classes in question; these teachers seem to take a lot of sick days, and the classes seem fine when you covered them and you’ve concluded to yourself that the problem classes are problems because the teenagers in question in those classes are very, very bored. The very same teachers are the ones that don’t come to internal meetings and training sessions, that do the bare minimum, which would be called coasting if only they had a little more momentum.

You talk to the teachers in question again. Teaching is a vocation surely and not a well paid one. Teachers, you had thought, aren’t in it for the money.  A laughable idea with salaries the way they are. So if people don’t like the job, why are they doing it? They make the right noises, and small improvements come, and then go again. You wander the halls, hear the students discussing the classes in their L1 (so naïve of them to assume you don’t understand) and discussing how poor they are, and you wonder about when and how turn the heft of the axe into a decisive stroke. You didn’t start this career to be a manager, nor to fire people, but sometimes it is the right thing to do…

Mentor Me! (or can I just get on with it?)

2 Dec

What do you want from a mentor?  As a mentor, what do you want from your mentees?  These two expectations don’t always meet in the middle and it can be a cause of professional friction when that happens.

I recently wrote a post that tried to look at the relationship from both sides:  From Mentee to Mentor and back again – a teacher’s tale.  Thinking on this further, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint what I want out of this arrangement.  I think it is important that every teacher have the opportunity to voice concerns to their DoS or manager,  but equally, they shouldn’t be forced to…  I suspect that what most teachers really want is to be left alone to get on with it as they think best.

From the DoS’s point of view though, it’s better to have the information before it becomes a problem, not afterwards.  And leaving teachers to just get on with it can have mixed results…

Hence the existing system of mentor meetings, which I describe in detail in the earlier post.

When I was on the mentoring side, what I really wanted to know was (a) are you happy?  (b) are your students happy? (c) what can we help with?.  What I asked was more often bureaucratic in nature and dealt with the details, rather than the broader picture.  Getting teachers to talk through each and every class is quite useful as it does bring to mind students and issues that might not otherwise get mentioned, but it somehow seems a more administrative function and not quite what the word mentoring implies.

Now that I’m a mentee again, I think what I’d like to be asked most is “Fancy a beer?”  But in all seriousness, I think those three questions probably cover it!

So – a poll!  I’ve put my suggestions in – feel free to vote for them or to add your own suggestions: